Open Accessibility Menu

Is It Possible To Cook Healthy Holiday Meals? Come See How It's Done!

Let’s face it. The upcoming fall and winter holiday season’s family gatherings and parties – with all those extra calories, saturated fats and alcoholic beverages – can contribute to weight gain.

According to researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the average weight gain for American adults during the holiday season is about one pound. While the average gain is only a pound, people who are already overweight tend to gain a lot more, however. One NIH study found that overweight people gained five pounds or more during the holidays. Further studies show most Americans never lose the weight they gain during the winter holidays. So even if you gain only a pound or two, those pounds can add up year after year, playing a role in increased rates of obesity.

“The average American consumes up to 4,500 calories in a typical holiday meal such as the traditional Thanksgiving dinner with beverages, appetizers, the main meal and dessert,” says Maggie Guting, a registered dietitian at Washington Hospital. “That includes 230 grams of fat, which is the equivalent of three sticks of butter. That’s more than twice the average daily consumption of calories and almost three times the daily consumption of fat – all in a single meal.”

To help people in the community avoid gaining those extra holiday pounds, Washington Hospital is sponsoring a “Healthy Holiday Cooking Demonstration” on Tuesday, November 17, from 1 to 3 p.m. The event will feature Ms. Guting and Washington Hospital’s Director of Food and Nutritional Services Kimberlee Alvari, RD. Both dietitians will conduct live cooking demonstrations on how to prepare healthier holiday dishes that the whole family can enjoy.

The cooking demonstration will be held in the Conrad E. Anderson, MD, Auditorium in the Washington West Building located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont. A $5 fee will cover the cost of the food supplies, including a recipe that participants will be able to make and take home with them.

“My basic advice for healthier holiday cooking and eating is to choose wisely,” Ms. Guting notes. “If you’re going to indulge yourself, choose food items you wouldn’t get to eat at other times of the year. For example, try the sweet potato casserole and skip the mashed potatoes and gravy that you can have any time of the year. Or, instead of eating everyday chips and salsa for an appetizer, have some of those spiced nuts that you make only during the holidays.”

In previous years, the Healthy Holiday Cooking Demonstration at Washington Hospital featured recipes for healthy courses such as appetizers and desserts. This year’s program will focus on creating healthy side dishes.

“We want to help people learn ‘lighter’ ways to make traditional side dishes,” says Ms. Guting. “There are ways to alter recipes to reduce the calories and fat. For example, you can use non-fat or low-fat dairy products. If your traditional recipe calls for eggs, you could use egg substitute or use half regular eggs and half egg substitute. Instead of mayonnaise or sour cream, try using nonfat Greek yogurt, which has the added benefit of extra protein. In many recipes, you may be able to use less butter or substitute olive oil for butter to cut down on the amount of saturated fat. Seasonal vegetables such as winter squashes and root vegetables are great alternatives to heavy side dishes, too.”

Seasonal vegetables will be prominent in the cooking demonstration, with recipes for side dishes such as a potato-squash soup, a turnip casserole and a fall harvest salad with butternut squash, kale, pomegranate seeds and pecans.

“We also will be offering ideas for inexpensive holiday décor that will make the meal more festive,” Ms. Guting adds. “For example, we’ll show people how to serve the potato-squash soup in a hollowed-out squash shell. The fall harvest salad is also beautifully colorful, and it’s a great recipe for involving the kids in holiday meal preparation.”

To register to attend this year’s Healthy Holiday Cooking Demonstration on November 17, or for more information, visit and click on the tab at the bottom of the home page for “Upcoming Health Seminars” or call (800) 963-7070.

Autumn Kale Salad

  • 1/2 cup large butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into1/2-inch pieces
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
  • Fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon 8 cups torn kale leaves (about 2 bunches, de-stemmed)
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1/2 shallot, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Toss the squash with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Spread squash on the baking sheet and roast until tender and golden brown, about 25 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons olive oil, the lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, cinnamon, and pepper to taste.

In a large bowl, combine the kale, squash, pecans, pomegranate seeds, sliced shallot and dressing up to an hour before serving.

Makes 8 servings

Nutrition per serving: calories: 178, fat: 12 g, protein: 4 g, sodium: 247 mg

Source: November 2015 issue of Parents magazine